Thoughts on The Social Network


… and “uneasy” are two words that I’d use to describe my immediate reactions to The Social Network, aka the Facebook movie.

I’d previously heard various people talk about the film, including a very enthusiastic review on the Guardian Tech Weekly from Jemima Kiss, Gia Milinovich and Charles Arthur. I’d also listened closely to the thoughts of Leo Laporte and Jeff Jarvis on This Week in Google – neither of whom were so glowing, and who gave a reasoned discussion towards the view that the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is in fact “anti-Internet” in his portrayal of the themes. I was impressed that Leo had producer Dana Brunetti take him on during net@night that same week. The film is based on a book by Ben Mezrick and also, apparently, real interviews with a couple of the “injured” parties. Given the advance chatter, I was keen to see it for myself.

Firstly I will say this – the film was gripping. I was not bored at all, even though it was a couple of hours long. The music by Trent Reznor was great, and almost all of the performances were excellent. Before anyone comments, I also know it’s a dramatisation / fictionalisation… so I wasn’t expecting to go in to the cinema to watch a “true facts” documentary. I’m also not sorry to have been to see it!

It’s very hard to say what disturbed me or put me ill-at-ease. Anyone who thinks that Mark Zuckerberg comes off as some kind of injured genius good guy here is clearly not looking at the movie through the same lens as me. As presented, he’s not the nice guy that he claims to be at the end of the story. He betrays his closest friend – admittedly the man whose testimony much of the source material is based on – despite several acts of generosity on Eduardo’s part, including the way he apparently overlooked Mark’s personal flaws.  The Winkelvoss guys do not come over well in the script, and I did wonder whether part of what I thought was a flawed performance there came from having a single actor play both twins, which must have been technically tough.

I guess I got the uncomfortable feeling that the film was a pop at geeks, a pop at privilege as well, and the female characters were all pretty poor (either Sorkin hasn’t read up on how to create strong female roles, or felt they are not relevant in this geeky collegiate techy world). I think the multiple betrayals were probably what left me with the ultimate sour taste in my mouth. Maybe I’m not cut out for hard-nosed business 🙂

For all of that, there were some great comments… I particularly felt resonance in the discussion of how a site, a social model like Facebook, like the Internet itself, is never finished – like fashion, it evolves.

I’m still mulling my reaction, and may have to watch it again to rebalance (or perhaps reinforce?!) my views.

Footnote: did you know that IMDb is 20 years old today? Wow. That’s one of those sites that has showcased the power and changing nature of the Internet over time, emerging from the embers of Usenet lists, crowdsourcing people power to generate an amazing treasury of information, going commercial, and then acquired by Amazon in 1998. Congratulations!

Update: a day later and I’ve thought about this a little more. I think there are two other things that bother me about the film. Firstly I can certainly relate to Zuckerberg’s lack of social comfort in the rowdy college party culture, so I think looking at that made me a little uneasy too. Secondly, the film presents the genesis of Facebook / Facemash as a reaction to a break-up and fundamentally something of a revenge-driven science project… something that Zuckerberg has dived into as an attempt to recreate the college social experience so that other people will think it is cool (and presumably by extension, that he is cool), an attempt to boil it down to algorithms, rather than through a real desire to engage in that space himself. Perhaps the infamous privacy incident where he took his own content private when he couldn’t drive the new controls on the site a few years ago is a sign of that. Now, I know that the authors and filmmakers can say well look, we have the original blog post as evidence here… and I’m not denying that’s the case. I think that if that is all Facebook is, though… well it makes me feel pretty strange about using it and other similar sites to the degree that I do.

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on The Social Network”

  1. Andy, I think you raise some really good points and observations about the flick, and honestly, when I walked into the theatre, I had few expectations in terms of the movie’s truthfulness, but did expect a good yarn. The latter, I got, but I would absolutely agree on your characterization of the female roles (especially considering Sheryl Sandberg was later brought in from Google as COO to bring some adult supervision to the effort).
    I’m not sure we’ll ever get to the bottom of how this thing originally went down, but I think Zuckerberg ultimately wins out with the persistence and vision to garner over 500M users from that original million. Apparently somebody finds it of value.
    As for leaving the site due to potential misuse of personal information, that’s a decision for each to personally take. The network effect has clearly kicked in, and not being on Facebook these days is a little like not existing, at least in the electronic realm. I find it extremely useful for keeping up with folks, and if that means the trade is a little personalized marketing, then it seems to be a fair trade. And apparently 499,999,999 others seem to agree.
    Maybe someday someone will go back and do a documentary detailing the story from day 1, with interviews from each of the principles, and allow them to tell the tale.
    In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if the movie continues on its box office roll for longer than a couple of weeks.

  2. The NDAs probably mean we’ll never even get those interviews.

    The film may have been well crafted but it just left me glad not to have to deal with people like any of the characters. Not one single character was particularly likable. It was obvious that one of the writers made an effort with the geek speak — the drunken screen-scraping scene was actually pretty spot on and the first time I’ve heard wget mentioned in a major movie. Howver the attention to detail was spotty. The screen with ‘internetty stuff on’ in the last moments of the movie is the output of someone doing ping which is just sloppy…

    …or someone was making a bleak existential statement about the character’s state of mind.

    Oh and the CGI ‘cold weather breath’ was a bit painful once I noticed it.

    I think the movie probably works best if you go in knowning it’s shakespearean tradegy.

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